One of the best things about Greenwich Park in recent years is how it’s largely stopped being a through route for cars. On Sundays, crowds can meander up the hill safe in the knowledge they won’t get squashed by some berk speeding down in four wheels. The closure of the park at the top of The Avenue (the hill) as a through route during weekday daytimes and at weekends has played a big part in this; so has the park’s 20mph speed limit. Indeed, I know one cyclist who was stopped by police for doing 30mph down the hill one morning.
So it’s baffling to hear that the park police have been considering raising the limit back up to 30mph. A report from a meeting posted to the Greenwich Cyclists e-mail list says an outside police traffic unit recommended raising the limit “to improve safety”. Quite how allowing cars to drive faster in an area used by thousands of pedestrians, many of them small children, was not recorded. Happily, it was decided this would not be carried out “for the time being”.
But when councils up and down the land are implementing 20mph schemes on their side roads, it seems bizarre that anyone would even consider this. Many of east Greenwich’s back streets are already 20mph zones, and Greenwich Council is thinking about implementing it borough-wide (surely it should just get on with it rather than fart about with a “best value review”, but never mind). So Greenwich Park could end up being the fastest route down the hill for some miles around. Hopefully this idea won’t just sit on the back-burner, but fall off and quietly disappear.
Meanwhile, it’s all change at the top of the park as the new Blackheath Gate (English to NOGOE translation: “Olympic vandalism”) takes shape. Unfortunately, this has meant the park’s become a through route again, hosting one way traffic from Blackheath down to Greenwich. At the top of the park, nobody’s quite worked out what cyclists are meant to do to exit. Squeeze out with the pedestrians, or take your chances going against the flow of cars. Ah, sod it, take a chance with the cars…
The arrival of spring also means the start of the hard work in transforming the park into an Olympic venue. The Circus Field on Blackheath has already been taken over by LOCOG (the circus itself will be across the other side of Shooters Hill Road as usual this Easter), but the real work begins on Monday when the Queen’s Field – the land in front of the Queen’s House – is taken over for construction work on the equestrian stadium. If you want to enjoy the classic view from the Wolfe statue without a stadium or building works being there – you’ve six days left.
But will there be any NOGOE activists chaining themselves to construction vehicles next week? Not so, for it appears the anti-equestrian lobby has finally raised the white flag. An email sent out to media contacts yesterday says the group “is evolving into a monitoring group to hold the Olympic organisers, LOCOG, to their promises to reinstate Greenwich Park after the damage they cause, and to provide a record and running commentary of the activity and disruption that will interest the media, conservation groups, Park users and local residents”.
More tellingly, remembering the fiasco of the anti-Irish Twitter messages posted by its unofficial spokesperson Rachel “Indigo” Mawhood, is this line: “Also please note that Rachel Mawhood has parted company with NOGOE.” First broken here last month, the story eventually made it into the Mail on Sunday.
Considering the pitiful turnout for their July demonstration against the test events, and the damage done to their Olympics cause by their unofficial spokesperson, perhaps if the NOGOE-rs care about the park so much, they could turn their energies to ensuring it doesn’t become Greenwich’s fastest rat run in future.
Update 9.20am Tuesday: Thanks to Duncan Borrowman for reminding me of one sad reason why the speed limit should not be increased.
The latest communiques from NOGOE, the always open-minded opponents of the Olympics in Greenwich Park. If they’re trying to work out why nobody’s listening to their claims that the rebuilding of the Blackheath gates (and the remodelling of an iffy junction) is “Olympic vandalism”, then these might provide an answer…
9pm update: I’ve tidied the original, mobile-uploaded, post up and swapped the image for a one showing four of this morning’s tweets from the NOGOE account, run by activist Rachel “Indigo” Mawhood, who sent me this charming missive last summer. Most have since been deleted, but not before they were widely seen, and also captured by tweeter @pekingspring.
NOGOE’s patrons include historian Dr David Starkey, who who caused outrage following last summer’s London riots when he said “the whites have become black”, author Blake Morrison and recently-appointed Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption.
London’s only evening newspaper last Friday:
“Hundreds of protesters” at Greenwich Park, 8:45am this morning:
I counted no more than 25 people outside Greenwich Park – requiring a load of security fencing and four police officers to keep an eye on them. NOGOE tell me that at its peak, the protest hit 30 people, and claim some 50 passed through. Either way, this looked like a display of English eccentricity rather than deep-seated anger at the horsey takeover of the park. One passer-by I spoke to had some sympathy for them, a man taking his kids to school heckled them: “It’s a public park, it’s what it’s there for!”
Which goes to the nub of it. These are people who regard the park as their back garden. Beyond that immediate area around the park, and beyond those who think the Olympics as a whole will be awful, far fewer people share their point of view that this will be a disaster.
But the photographers lapped it up, and no doubt NOGOE will get its day in the sun. The protesters aren’t giving up, claim it’s actually illegal to ride horses through Greenwich Park, and there’s talk of trying to get a judicial review of the planning decision (surely a bit late now). It’s all very well claiming the support of 5,000 locals, but if only 25 show up to your demonstration – huddle together now, it’ll look good on the telly if they zoom in – what happens next?
Even the placards were perplexing. If you don’t know the backstory to the Greenwich Park saga, holding banners with pictures of stag beetles just makes you look like members of a strange, secret society rather than a mass protest movement. The most baffling banner read “go Piggy go!” – a reference to British rider Piggy French.
Especially the day after a man was shot dead ten minutes’ walk from the gates, proving there’s more pressing issues around here, the park protest looks ever more like a niche interest.
With the argument arguably lost, there’s still room to spread misinformation around the place. NOGOE handed The Greenwich Phantom some photos implying the cross country course was running via the Saxon burial mounds to the west of the park. Not so.
There’s a course laid out for the horses to walk around – they were having a gentle trot around on Sunday – but it’s not the cross country course, and it skirts around the edge of the burial mounds. No big horror there.
In the meantime, LOCOG have lucked out with the weather, with day one of the test events taking place under blue skies. LOCOG could do more to tell people it’s still business as usual in the park – the closure to through traffic is wonderful, but it’s not clear that walkers and cyclists are still welcome in. These are minor gripes, though – a bit like complaining about a trotting route around the park.
Rob at greenwich.co.uk is in the arena today. For those of us without tickets, Tuesday’s cross-country event will provide the best chance to grab a glimpse of the action. If you’re free, I’ll join you peering through fences…
As you may (or may not) have seen elsewhere, Greenwich Council’s planning committee backed plans to hold the Olympic equestrian events in Greenwich Park by 10 votes to two on Tuesday night, after a meeting which went on for four-and-three-quarter hours. The dissenters were two out of the committee’s three Conservative councillors, Geoffrey Brighty and Dermot Poston.
I was there, I’m now exhausted and wondering why anyone would want to be a councill-… er, oh.
Actually, though, for me it was proof of why these meetings need to let cameras in – this decision affects hundreds of thousands of people, and the only coverage I can see at the moment was me and Adam Bienkov tweeting it, and greenwich.co.uk‘s write-up. (The News Shopper published just after 1am.)It’s a shame people can’t see important decisions like this being made for themselves.
Anyway, if you see me tomorrow and start off by saying “I’ve lived in Greenwich for 30 years and I’ve always loved the park…”, I may just have to run away screaming.
Crikey, I never realised Sainsburys was that unhappy about John Lewis being named a 2012 sponsor…
We’re now two days away from Tuesday night’s planning board meeting which will decide whether the Greenwich Park equestrian events get the go-ahead. It’s almost the last possible date Greenwich Council can decide anything mildly contentious before May 6’s election.
Planning officials have recommended acceptance with a string of conditions, including the creation of an “advisory board” to monitor the site (which does not seem to have very much resident involvement, which is disappointing) and that LOCOG will need separate council approval for various individual elements (like the materials to be used). With demonstrators planning to picket the meeting, Lord Coe is reportedly going to address councillors himself.
Regular readers will know I’ve not been impressed with either side of the debate and it’s shown the council at its worst. If approval is given – which is by no means certain – I hope residents get to have a closer say in what’s going on. Too many things in Greenwich get imposed on people without thought for the people who have to live with them, and 2012 feels like yet another one of them. If approval isn’t given – well, Greenwich can still benefit from the Games, although there are many who will rue missing out on seeing our park in the global spotlight, just the same as there are others who fear what might happen that summer.
I do hope, though, that the way forward will be clear from Tuesday and some of the nonsense that’s surrounded the prospect of the Olympics in Greenwich Park will cease.
I don’t think life will be that simple, though…
Olympic organising body LOCOG has finally submitted its planning application for using Greenwich Park during the 2012 games. The application went in on 30 November, but details have only now been made public. The summary on Greenwich Council’s website reads:
The temporary use of the site for the hosting of the Equestrian and Modern Pentathlon events (including the Test Event in 2011) for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The temporary structures include a 23,000 seat arena, training areas, stabling, a cross country course, operational and site set up and removal compounds, vehicular and pedestrian access areas, operational parking and ancillary structures.
I understand NOGOE, the body campaigning against the Games coming to the park, is planning to hold a meeting in mid-late January to work out its response.
(UPDATED 12:45PM with details of Lord Coe speaking to the London Assembly – see below)
Greenwich Council’s pro-Olympics propaganda is pretty laughable, we’ve established.
But this latest piece of anti-Olympics propaganda is even more laughable. Here’s Andrew Gilligan, banging on from his online bully pulpit on Greenwich.co.uk, and in his new berth at the Telegraph. Please, can someone wake me up when the grown-ups start to discuss what will happen in Greenwich in 2012?
So a London Assembly member surveys three wards which border the park – curiously neglecting the fourth, Lewisham’s Blackheath ward – and distributes 12,000 surveys. To reply, people have to fork out for their own stamp. Less than 11% of people surveyed bother to reply. Of which, 68%, say they are “not in favour of the equestrian event being held in Greenwich Park during the 2012 Olympics”.
So, in fact, of the people surveyed, and to be generous, 7.2% of people are against the Olympic equestrian events taking place in Greenwich Park. With 89% of people in Greenwich West, Blackheath Westcombe and Peninsula wards not bothered enough to return the forms in the first place, or ask for one to be e-mailed to them, it doesn’t actually mean very much at all, except for that up to 861 people were motivated and angry enough to buy a stamp to protest about something which is very likely to happen anyway, while up to 392 people forked out to support something which is, er, very likely to happen anyway.
Not exactly a scientific survey, is it? But good enough for Andrew Gilligan, who, like his polar opposites at Greenwich Time, merrily lets no facts get in the way of a good headline.
“It turns out that, in a less-than surprise development, both Greenwich Council and London 2012 have been talking out of their bottoms,” crows Gilligan. But he, by using this wonky survey, is joining the chorus of arseholes he depicts. It’s truly disgraceful, partisan reporting that even a child could see straight through, and illustrates the blizzard of bull which has dominated the 2012 debate in Greenwich.
“There is clearly very strong feeling about this,” said Conservative AM – and Bexley councillor – Gareth Bacon, who conducted the survey. From the results of his poll, though, you could be mistaken for thinking nobody gives a toss.
Actually, I don’t think that’s the case at all. I suspect that outright opposition to the Games in and around Greenwich itself is at around 30-35%. There’s definitely a rump of people who aren’t happy. And there’s a great deal of concern beyond that about the park’s welfare which doesn’t manifest itself as opposition. Gilligan says “active, motivated enthusiasm for the Games in the Park locally is very close to nil” – well, active, motivated opposition wasn’t that far above nil if you’re going on the survey’s response rate. If you live in those areas and got a survey (or didn’t), I’d love to hear from you. My own suspicion is that there’s a lot of confusion and not much knowledge about just what will happen to our streets and our park in 2012, which, to be fair, Gareth Bacon goes on to point out. Unfortunately, the antics of Andrew Gilligan simply add to that confusion.
On the supplementary questions, some 90% of the 1,267 respondents hadn’t had any communication from organising body LOCOG – this was before last week’s Seb Coe letters started thumping onto doormats – and 78% said they hadn’t been invited to any public meetings – despite the fuss over Greenwich Council’s stage-managed meeting at the O2 in December. If you can read anything into the survey, it’s that people are feeling uninformed and maybe taken for granted. Not a great surprise in an area without much local media, but it does suggest that LOCOG have some work to do.
More importantly than any of this, LOCOG’s formal public consultation is now under way with a shop in College Approach open until Sunday (and again from 28-31 October) and a website full of information. Whatever side of the Greenwich Park debate you’re on, if you care about Greenwich, find out what it’s about, and tell them what you think.
12:45PM UPDATE: Lord Coe spoke to the London Assembly this morning, and was questioned about Greenwich Park by Gareth Bacon, the Conservative AM who put together the survey. Bacon played down the “huge majority against” line peddled by Andrew Gilligan, and instead concentrated on the consultation about the Games in the park.
Bacon asked Coe what would change about LOCOG’s consultation with local people, adding that a lack of discussion with residents had resulted in “Chinese whispers building up over the past couple of years”. Lord Coe, who is LOCOG’s chairman, said he was not surprised at the figures in Bacon’s survey.
“The broader point is that you’re right,” he told Bacon, adding that LOCOG now felt comfortable enough to launch a formal consultation, which is starting with today’s launch of the shop in Greenwich Town Centre. “Of course we know we have to communicate. Having worked closely with the experts, we feel we are now properly researched enough [to begin the process].”
“As an organisation, we take very seriously the need to explain what we’re doing,” Coe added. “The legacy of having an Olympic event in the borough, encouraging young people who propbably know little or nothing about the sport in question, is a very important part of what we seek to do.”
Bacon made the point that LOCOG’s consultation had so far simply asked people to “buy in” to the idea of having the equestrian events in the park, adding that the amenity societies did not represent the local population.
“I am aware people tend to be motivated by what they’re opposed to,” he admitted. “But the numbers are so opinionated, it shows there’s been a problem with the consultation process.”
Coe said LOCOG’s consultation could only start once the body had spoken to the amenity societies and other interest groups. “I don’t think we could have got to that point without having gone through that process,” he added.